Despite extremist Muslim opposition, a leading Catholic charity is helping the Church’s mission to indigenous peoples in northwestern Nigeria. Mission programs include literacy classes, well digging, basic health care and education for tribes in the region.
Reports from Kontagora, in Niger state, indicate that militant Muslims have tried to stop new churches from being built and have knocked them down during the night, the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports. The state of Niger also recently adopted Shari'a law, even though the region is made up of equal numbers of Christians and Muslims.
ACN has announced it will be giving over $190,000 over three years to help support the missions.
Bishop Timothy Carroll, the Apostolic Vicar of Kontagora, expressed “deep gratitude” to ACN and its donors, saying that without the charity's help the missions could not survive.
Local people are increasingly leaving tribal religions, he reported.
“Our indigenous people are at a crossroads. In the next 10 years or so they will either embrace Christianity or Islam,” Bishop Carroll said. “Thank God a lot of people are turning to the Catholic Church as the gateway to God, and the gateway for progress in literacy, health, water, etc., because we care for both body and soul.”
Literacy courses take place during Nigeria’s January-April dry season so that the farming cycle is not interrupted. Most of the indigenous people are “semi-nomadic” and almost 80 percent illiterate.
Because of this, the bishop said, Catholics place “great importance” on the courses.
Those who complete three years’ study can proceed to courses at the Masuga Language Center. There, they learn to lead prayer services and to teach Bible stories and the basics of the faith.
A Church-organized well-digging team provides services to any communities who request it, regardless of whether or not they are Catholic. The team also teaches the importance of maintaining a well to avoid water contamination, ACN reports.
The bishop expressed hope that some missions will split off into parishes in the next five to ten years.
A shortage of priests is delaying the creation of parishes. Priests are plentiful in eastern and southern Nigeria, where the Church’s presence dates back more than a century. However, 80 percent of the communities in the northwest are less than a decade old.
“Indigenous vocations are the fruit on the tree. Here we are only planting trees at present. Fruit will come in God’s time. Vocations are now starting to come in older parishes,” Bishop Carroll said.